7 Best And 7 Worst Home Improvement Projects

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When you buy a home, I bet you think of two things automatically: how excited you are to rearrange the home to suit your taste and what you may sell it for once you fix it up.  No?  Well I do.  We’ve all heard of people getting rich through real estate.  Even the most grounded person struggles to fight the pull of Return on Investment (ROI) when they buy a home.  The problem is that home improvement projects are expensive.

Unfortunately, for every project that you do with a good return, there is an equally bad project.  That hot tub that you and your spouse had to have may not be appreciated by a new owner.  However, the new cabinets in the kitchen could never be considered bad.  Unless they’re purple, then they’re bad.  For those people who can’t let ROI go, I’ll run you through the 7 best and 7 worst home improvement projects for your money.

7 Best Home Improvement Projects

Fresh Paint

Paint is one of the secret weapons of realtors, landlords, and smart homeowners. It is the least expensive, most effective way, to bring a breath of fresh air to a home. Even if you buy the most expensive paint, you will only pay $50 for a gallon and it’s worth it. If you add in the money for supplies to paint, it’s still not very expensive.  The color of your paint can vastly change the feeling of a space so choose wisely.  If you stick to a similar color palette across the home, it will give a feeling of a more designed space.  For those less sure of their design sense, stick to neutral colors.  Just don’t paint everything eggshell white; that’s a trend of the past.

If you really struggle, pick a single color you like and ask your local paint store employees to help you select some good colors that complement it.  You can also use the color wheel as a guide to help you select more colors.  I was asking an employee in our paint department yesterday about this. She said that she enjoyed when customers came up with a paint chip and asked for her to help them choose a couple accent colors.

Paint companies, like Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams are also coming out with pre-selected complementary paint families.  These can help you to find a group of paint colors that automatically go well with each other and look professional.  They are a great place to start if you have no idea where to begin.

New Light Fixtures

Lighting is like jewelry. It's a great home improvement project

Light fixtures are second only to paint for their impression on people entering your home. This makes them another of the greatest home improvement projects.  As I tell you in my article on selecting lighting, lighting is like jewelry.

At least update your dated light fixtures to modern light fixtures for the best ROI. If you are trying to spend less, choose a design style that is flexible.  Don’t be afraid to ask if there are similar fixtures for less money.  Different manufacturers frequently make almost identical fixtures.

 With the perfect accent of jewelry, you go from amazing to stunning. We all want to be stunning. You can add the perfect crystal chandelier above the entry way to make your home sparkle or a boxy fixture to make it modern.

Curb Appeal

When people drive down the road, curb appeal makes your home to stand out.  Curb appeal is one of the home improvement projects with great ROI because it can be done inexpensively and it has such a big impact. New landscaping, bright flowers, and anchoring shrubs go a long way. Be sure to select plants that do well in your area.  

For people starting from scratch, I highly recommend you check out this article on beginning your design.  You can also put down a fresh layer of mulch to make the landscaping look better as well.  Once you have your landscaping done, be sure to water it well with a custom drip irrigation system to keep the plants healthy for a long time.

Garage Doors Are Great Options To Update

Garage Door replacement is a great way to stand out given that the garage door is a large part of many home’s facades. While it is easy, people can be intimidated by it.  You don’t even have to replace the whole garage door.  You can order a replacement top panel  with decorative glass for an easy and inexpensive way to make your garage door a designer door. 

For those who want it even easier, add a fresh coat of paint and decorative strapping to make a regular door look like a designer door.  If you do need to replace the whole garage door, be sure to take your measurements to the hardware store with you.  If you aren’t sure what measurements to take, check out this information from Holmes Garage Door.

When working on home improvement projects, don't forget your garage door

Siding Improvements

As one of the more expensive home improvement projects, it may surprise you to see it on the list of the 7 best for returns.  Siding is not only a major part of style but it also serves as vital protection. By replacing old siding with a new material, you get more style and more protection.

New materials look nicer with fresher finishes and textures.  They are also more rot resistant, bug resistant, and water resistant. While you install new siding, it’s a great time to improve your home’s insulation and housewrap, like this Tyvek wrap, to make your home more energy efficient and more water resistant.

To give your new siding extra pop, add in some interesting features.  Manufactured stone veneer is an excellent way to add a pop of architectural detail. These faux stone panels that are inexpensive and easy for the average home owner to install.  You can also use multiple types of siding like brick with board and batten.  Don’t be afraid to use siding as part of your overall design to make your home stand out.

Minor Kitchen Remodel

The kitchen is the heart of the home and has some of the biggest impact on a home’s value. Redoing your kitchen is always worth the cost of your investment but be careful. These remodels are not for the faint of heart.  They are the easiest remodels to let your budget go haywire. With so many options and decisions, it’s easy to choose a slightly more expensive option for everything and, soon, your kitchen will be thousands of dollars more expensive.

A minor kitchen remodel will give the best return. To give you an idea of what I mean by minor, plan on about 10%-20% of your home’s value as your kitchen budget.  

Improve the cabinets, hardware, and paint for the biggest impacts. Back splash tile can be done simply with peel and stick tile and I’ve got some great back splash ideas for you in another article.

Some Inexpensive Resources

Counter tops have a huge impact on a kitchen but you don’t necessarily have to replace them.  You can update the color of your counter tops, like I did, with simple counter top paint.  The paint I used cost just over $30 and worked great!  It’s a super easy project and it’s also inexpensive compared to replacing the whole counter top.  If you can paint a wall, you can paint your counter tops.  I highly encourage you to try it if you have old laminate counter tops.

For an added bonus, most large home improvement stores will have kitchen designers on staff that will help you design your kitchen professionally for free. This is a great resource for most homeowners and I highly recommend it.  Be upfront with them what your budget and goals are for the best results.  If you want even more out of your appointment, take in some ideas of finishes or styles that you prefer so that the designer has something to work with.

Wood Deck Addition

Homes are about living in them and playing in them. For added fun, a wood deck is a great place to start. When somebody sees a deck, they automatically imagine the barbecue they will have with their close family and friends. With so many different decking materials, you need to be aware of what you are spending because, similar to the kitchens, it’s easy to go over budget on this home improvement project.

For those looking on the best return, you’ll want to make your deck from pressure treated support lumber and cedar deck boards. The less expensive material will add all of the fun without being expensive, therefore giving you a better ROI. 

By using a less expensive material initially, you will be able to afford more decorative touches like iron railings or running your deck boards in different directions for added flair. My article on ordering lumber will walk you through defining your needs for your project.

Door and Window Updates

While you don’t always see the decorative aspect of windows, it is a major selling point to have updated, energy efficient windows. Updating your windows one at a time is a great investment to make in your house since you save money on energy bills.  I only caution you that it may not be possible to exactly match each one if you wait too long between.

There is no need to go overboard and get windows that are triple pane or with fancy glazes.  A basic low-E, argon filled, double pane window is perfect.  I highly recommend Andersen 100 series windows that are basically the same price as vinyl windows but they are sleeker looking.  They are made of a composite material that lasts and looks excellent.  They also come in a range of colors to look beautiful with many styles.

When you are updating your door there are a few things you should select. A fiberglass door is a better door and worth the extra price compared to a steel door.  A wood door is more expensive but they require more upkeep so I don’t typically recommend them. 

For extra pop, select a door with glass in it to make it stand out from the street.  It could be a small clear window at the top of the door or a decorative, larger glass. 

You should also consider painting or staining your door an interesting color that complements your home. Make sure to read up on you door vocabulary  to make sure that you get the correct door when you prepare to go to the hardware store.  Typically, a door ordered to fit your specifications cannot be returned so you need to get it right the first time.

7 Worst Home Improvement Projects

Taste Specific Updates

The top item on the list of bad home improvement projects is taste specific updates.  If you like Hollywood Glam with bright brass, crystals, and fur accents, that’s okay. However, only people who love that style will love your home and pay good money for it. There are more risks associated with uncommon styles but, if it’s your forever home, go ahead with it.

If you ever plan on selling your home for a good return, select a style that is popular in your region.  I already have an article on interior design styles that can walk you through it. You can ask realtors what they might recommend or ask people that you meet within an area. If you live in an area where beach houses are popular, it is difficult to sell a house inspired by a ranch theme.

High End Fixtures

I think we can all understand wanting the best of everything. We want the brand name light fixture with the crystal instead of plastic. We want carpet made out of wool like the posh people had back in the day. Unfortunately, the average person sees the same thing whether it is made of an expensive material or not.

What actually pays when it comes to resale value is what the finishing touches look like. Some finishes are better than others at attracting returns. Satin nickel fixtures will always be one of the top finishes.  Some design styles are better at attracting returns.  Midcentury modern design is almost always in fashion.

Just make sure that, if your goal is to see your money back, you always remember that there are frequently high and low price options that look virtually identical.  Keep in mind that the overall look, and not the quality, matter for ROI on fixtures.  I suggest you find a fixture that looks good first.

High End Millwork

Extra wide baseboards are the doll of home improvement projects. They can take an average room and make it look tremendous. Similarly, the highly detailed door casings that make you swoon on Pinterest have equal effect. However, these highly custom and detailed millwork pieces are indicative of a high end, custom home for a reason. They are terribly expensive and you will rarely get your money back on resale.  Ask if the same profile is available in a less expensive board, such as MDF.

That’s not to say give up on the matter. Flatstock, the most inexpensive and basic board available, is kind of an “in” look right now. This is a blessing but the wider boards are still more expensive than you should want. 

Millwork home improvement projects

You can fake this look by spacing  inexpensive trim above your base molding and painting both trims and the wall between the same color. I found some instructions on how to do that here.  This will give an inexpensive illusion of wider baseboards.

High End Landscaping

We all love to drive down the street and see a beautifully landscaped yard. There’s something about a sweeping green lawn beneath a shady tree that gets the heart racing. This landscaping can be expensive to upkeep and expensive to install. Ultimately, nobody knows that the tree in the front yard is an exotic mimosa tree, they just know they like it.

To increase your curb appeal, without a lot of cost, you need to select plants wisely.  When in doubt, find plants common at your local store since they are already adapted for your area.  Since irrigation systems are expensive, make sure to conserve your resources  with water wise plants.  Likewise, choose plants that require very little effort and fertilizer. The less work and  resources, the less expensive the plant. In the end, any landscaping that isn’t weeds will add value to your home.

Large Water Features

Water home improvement projects

Water features are something that appeal to most homeowners. Fountains and ponds give the sound and sight of water that most people appreciate.  So, that isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever put something like this in. If you like it, put it in. You probably won’t see a good return from this home improvement project though.

Think of other ways to incorporate water in your yard besides a pre-made fountain.  Leftover garden pots and an inexpensive pump can make a really cool fountain. You can also make stunning fish ponds out of fountain pumps and metal stock tanks available at most home centers and farm stores. If you are creative and can keep the initial price down, this can actually be one of the better home improvement projects.

Finished Garage Floors

The clean and sparkly epoxy garage floors are something every homeowner wants. But they cost hundreds of dollars.  They make your sports car look good and they make people feel like proper “homeowners.”  These finishes take a lot of labor and material which adds to their price considerably. Due to the high cost of this project, and the low returns, this has to be included on the list of bad home improvement projects.

Instead of the epoxy garage floor finishes, consider a basic garage floor paint, like this one that I’ve used on projects and love for only $40, and some shelving to give it a high end look. There are several different brands and types of floor paints. There are latex porch and floor paints as well as concrete stains to simply give a darker translucent color. All finishes are going to require a clean, oil free floor which is only achieved after a thorough cleaning. However, these less expensive finishes give the same feel at a fraction of the price so you get a better ROI.

Pools/Hot Tubs

Why is it that every fancy home in every magazine has a pool? The answer: It’s selling a lifestyle, not a pool.  Fancy homes have pools because they require a lot of money and maintenance to keep up and that makes them a luxury. Pools are not always appreciated by new homeowners. They require a delicate chemical balance and constant cleaning in order to be beautiful. Pools can also be hazards for young children.  They are one of the worst home improvement projects because they are expensive and they are a gamble whether someone buying the house would pay more for it.

If you want the feel of luxury, focus on other home improvement projects that people would appreciate in your yard. Install a gazebo to take advantage of a quiet corner. Landscape with a nice pathway and some inexpensive shrubs to give your yard a lived-in feel.  You can make your yard look amazing without the cost and risk of a more permanent fixture such as a pool.

Final Thoughts

When embellishing a home, you need two main things. You need a reasonable starting budget to make it more likely you will see good ROI from the project. You also need to remember universal tastes. If only a few people are going to like your design style, you’ll be at a weaker negotiating position and also unlikely to see a decent return.  The more you can keep your choices neutral and inexpensive, the better your chances.

This is all based on you wanting to sell your home at a profit though.  More and more homeowners are buying the “forever” home and fixing it up with home improvement projects that will suit their own tastes.  If you are going to be living in the home for decades, you should fix it how you want it.  If you love something enough, the returns don’t matter and you can still buy it just to make you happy.  Don’t be afraid to dress up your home how you want it unless the only goal is to make a profit.  Happy projects!

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    Head Homeowner

    Hey everybody! I'm Sydney, the head homeowner here. Let me know if you have any questions you didn't find the answer to. Tell me what projects you're working on. I love to hear from all my readers.

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